This is Anse Chastanet, a quiet, tasteful, romantic and out-of-the-way resort hotel on the island of St. Lucia, one of the less trampled vacation spots in the Caribbean.
If you are looking for high-pitched nightlife, group activities and souvenir shopping, head for Nassau or St. Thomas. If you want to spend a week without any newspapers or television, where the toughest decision is whether to lie in the sun or in the shade of a palm umbrella, then Anse Chastanet may be more to your liking.
There are few resorts on this mountainous, pear-shaped island between Martinique and St. Vincent, and Anse Chastanet is one of the smallest. There are just 38 rooms, and even when the hotel is full, which is usually the case in winter, the atmosphere remains relaxed.
The resort provides a number of activities for guests, including complimentary sailing, windsurfing and tennis, and live, local entertainment in the evening. There is a beachside bar and restaurant with tropical drinks and a grill. Another bar, open at night, is on the hillside.
But the big draw at Anse Chastanet definitely is underwater. A magnificent reef lies just off-shore, and the snorkeling and scuba diving are sensational.
A full-service diving shop on the beach offers lessons and trips for beginners to experts, certification programs and free snorkeling gear. Although boat trips to offshore diving sites are available, they hardly seem necessary. Just off the beach is a drop of more than 30 feet, with schools of squid, blue tangs, trumpetfish and myriad other exotic swimmers, plus sponges and coral. Indeed, the snorkeling is as good as any place I have ever visited, including St. John and Hawaii.
I also recommend the scuba diving. As a first-time diver, I found the instructors patient, friendly and safety-conscious. Although such can't be promised, my lessons turned out to be one-on-one.
The beach, by the way, is also excellent for swimming and sunbathing. The only possible unpleasantness is the parade of local vendors (and occasional hustlers), selling everything from jewelry and clothing to water-skiing rides and marijuana. Most take no for an answer.
For those with a further hankering for exploring, the hotel arranges numerous daily outings, including trips to the volcanoes, a rain-forest walk and a boat trip to the island capital of Castries. With the exception of the boat trip, the day outings tend to be quite expensive, although often
My wife and I were especially impressed with the rain-forest hike led by Marshal Simon, a local naturalist with a vast knowledge of plants and birds. Although we never did catch sight of St. Lucia's elusive green parrots, our guide found plenty to show us. If you go, though, take lightweight and water- repellent hiking shoes (not dress shoes, as one German woman wore) and a poncho. The rain forest is not likely to disappoint you with dry weather.
As for the trip to Castries, the boat ride is fun and scenic, but the town itself is drab and crowded. There are a variety of restaurants and bars, a straw-crafts market and even a duty-free shopping center with a dock for mammoth cruise ships, but the town certainly is not a must-see.
Incidentally, unlike the case on many other Caribbean islands, a car is not really necessary on St. Lucia and, in fact, is not recommended. The roads near Anse Chastanet are extremely winding and rough, and there aren't all that many places to go, including the airport, that a taxi won't suffice. The few people we met who had rented vehicles regretted it.
The town of Soufriere is about a half-hour walk from Anse Chastanet, and although it passes the local dump (guarded by pigs), the views of the volcanic cones, known as the Pitons, are excellent. Much smaller than Castries, the town is somewhat dusty and unkempt, although there are a few local restaurants with good Creole cooking. Ask at the town hall for recommendations and directions.
If you visit the island in early February, as we did, you'll find that Soufriere comes alive for Carnival, with lively and colorful costume contests, a parade and music. The parade isn't as slick and organized as Philadelphia's Mummers Parade but great fun nonetheless, especially the judging for the Carnival queen.
If you are staying at Anse Chastanet during the winter season (Dec. 15 to April 15) and want to try the local fare in Soufriere, it is best to go around lunchtime because, in the peak season, the resort requires guests to purchase a meal plan for breakfast and dinner at its own restaurant.
Fortunately, the food at Anse Chastanet is quite good. The dinner menu changes every night, with several selections of fish and meat, and plenty to eat. The dishes include lots of local vegetables and native specialties with a Creole flair. A large buffet dinner is served at the beach restaurant a couple of times a week for a change of pace. Breakfasts are ample, too, with lots of local fresh fruit.
As for the accommodations, the rooms on the hillside are ample and private and, in some cases, offer fine views of the Pitons. The only drawback is the steep walk down to the beach, which requires you to get exercise whether or not you want it.
The hotel recently added a complex of larger, more modern rooms by the beach. Unfortunately, because they are set back, the only view is of the tennis court, rather than the water. We greatly preferred the rooms on the hill.
St. Lucia was alternately conquered by the French and British, and although the island is independent today, there are still residual influences from the past. The locals speak both English (with a lilting Caribbean accent) and French Creole. Anse Chastanet has an added international flair in that it is managed by Jean Francois Crinquand, who is French, and his wife, Monica, who is Irish. They and their staff are helpful and courteous.
Several airlines serve St. Lucia from Philadelphia, although there are no direct flights. They include American Airlines, BWIA International and Pan American. Lower fares often can be obtained through package deals or by buying tickets well in advance of departure; consult your travel agent.
Anse Chastanet's low-season room rates, from April 16 to Dec. 14, are $80, $98 or $118 per day, double occupancy, depending on the size. Meals are optional then at $30 a day per person. A 10 percent service charge is added to all room and food bills.
During high-season, from Dec. 15 to April 15, room rates are $130, $150 or $180 per day, double occupancy. Meals are required at an additional $30 per day per person, for breakfast and dinner. A 10 percent service charge is added to all room and food bills.
Anse Chastanet also offers special scuba-diving packages that include all equipment. Contact the hotel for information.
To telephone Anse Chastanet directly, call 809-454-7354.
One final tip: Take a converter for any electrical appliances. The voltage on St. Lucia is 220 volts.